Wednesday, February 5, 2014

MY TAKE ON THE PLANT BREEDERS BILL AND GMO...Reworded

Author: Alain Gbeasor

I will start off by saying that in writing this piece, I’m a bit disturbed at the direction our country is taking in national debates. Where those who scream loudest are given priority over those who have the knowhow.

I’m a Biochemist by training and I have done research and a serial biotechnology entrepreneur. In my early years I was so fascinated by DOLLY the cloned sheep and the opportunities genetic research had for disease eradication.
My opprobrium comes from the fact that as a Christian, I found it increasingly difficult to allow humans to play GOD with our finite knowledge and insight into the future.

In the past our farmers, researchers and nature have developed a system where crops and animals were selected on favorable traits which they showed such as resistance to pests, high yielding, diary producing , egg producing or meat producing among others. These are generally the research being done by the Centre for Scientific and industrial Research be it into crops or animals.

Today the new avenues are into BIOTECHNOLOGY which is based on biologic action or intrusion - biotechnology harnesses cellular and biomolecular processes to develop technologies and products that help improve our lives and the health of our planet. We have used the biological processes of microorganisms for more than 6,000 years to make useful food products, such as bread, apio, akpeteshie, wine, Kenkey, Banku Wagashie and cheese, and to preserve dairy products.

Modern biotechnology provides breakthrough products and technologies to combat debilitating and rare diseases, reduce our environmental footprint, feed the hungry, and use less and cleaner energy, and have safer, cleaner and more efficient industrial manufacturing processes.
The intent of Genetic Modification is not always wrong and evil but the issues that arise are matters of ethics, who determines how far on can go with the genetic manipulation? In the news this week we hear of dark skinned parents opting for fair skinned ones. Can the technology be used to eradicate the traits that will affect a major change in the population? Can some ‘crazed’ scientist create a carnivorous fly that will attack us or giant spiders, well these are issues we will leave to Kumawood, Ghalliwood and Nollywood to salivate on.

PLANT BREEDERS BILL
I believe the essence of the plant breeder’s bill is intended as a copyright bill to aid and provide some royalties to the scientists who research into seeds and animals to produce the best traits with an aim of eradicating food insufficiency and hunger among others.

I say categorical NO to the bill NOW because we have not expended all avenues currently available in solving these problems and most if the research being done currently if anything is publicly funded so its not a life and death situation yet if extra funding is not sought.

In a country where majority of our populace is into farming (bear in mind not huge commercial farms) it is difficult to accept a bill which is intended to make our farmers pay for seeds they use and cannot reuse by the law. In effect a farmer can no longer preserve seeds from his prior harvest for utilization in the next season to save on cost of seedlings.

This is because the new BILL gives the right to test his crops for the presence of such markers that are introduced into the Genetically Modified one, it will become more and more expensive for our farmers to grow their crops. Also considering that this new bill gives the opportunity for large seed companies and consortiums to enter our market by virtue of the bill, we are basically offering our FOOD sovereignty to external players who can decide at any one time to alter or punish us if we failed to pay up for the seedling or took a stand against an issue that they had reservations about. What are the regulations in place controlling ethics and how far one can go in the modification sought, who determines what is a desired crop trait and how far can that researcher go to protect his creation if you like.

Stretching my imagination imagine a consortium on whose seeds we have become addicted to, coerces us into passing laws favorable to them but alien to our culture because they hold unto our food bank and security.

Genetically Modified foods are laboratory-made, using technology that is totally different from natural breeding methods, and pose different risks from non-GM crops and I would not advice playing GOD without knowing the effects of such modifications in the near future.

We need not rush into such a bill because It’s is common knowledge that GMOs

  • Can be toxic, allergenic or less nutritious than their natural counterparts 
  • Are not adequately regulated to ensure safety 
  • Do not necessarily increase yield potential 
  • Do not reduce pesticide use but increase its 
  • Create serious problems for farmers, including herbicide-tolerant "superweeds", compromised soil quality, and increased disease susceptibility in crops 
  • Have mixed economic effects 
  • Harm soil quality, disrupt ecosystems, and reduce biodiversity 
  • Do not offer effective solutions to climate change 
  • Are as energy-hungry as any other chemically-farmed crops 
  • Cannot solve the problem of world hunger but distract from its real causes - poverty, lack of access to food and, increasingly, lack of access to land to grow it on. 
Based on the above I plead as a GHANAIAN and a BIOCHEMIST for that matter that there is no real pressing need to rush and take risks with GM crops when effective, readily available, and sustainable solutions to the problems that GM technology is claimed to address already exist.


Let’s us not demonize the technology yet , but allow others who are better in place to handle the research and not use our lands as a dumping and testing ground for possibly unfavorable technology. Let us address post-harvest losses, stock durables like grains and process perishables like tomatoes. Reduce food wastage, eat what we can and CAN what we cannot. We can institute Ghanaian Scientists to effect research into GMOs that are tailor made to solve indigenous agricultural problems to Ghana. Let’s us remember to replicate the Story of the Ghana COCOA, which has been developed over the years through our local scientist and has the world class standing it has today.

In reading the BILL, I ask myself these questions....Who wrote the BILL and what is the true intentions of it and possibly who are behind it? I rest my case.

Alain Gbeasor

 The Author ALAIN GBEASOR is a Biochemist, a serial Biotech entrepreneur and fellow of the African Good Governance Institute.
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